The City of Toronto recently announced that the King Street Transit Pilot will begin on Sunday, November 12th. Approved by Council last July, it will transform King Street from Bathurst to Jarvis into a transit priority corridor by eliminating straight throughs and/or left turns at major intersections, effectively removing the through movement capability for private vehicles. These movements, particularly the left turns, significantly reduce the effectiveness and speed of streetcars along the King corridor, as a streetcar with 60+ people on it often has to wait behind a single occupant vehicle waiting to make a left turn. Given that transit users outnumber drivers along this corridor by about 3 to 1, a shift towards prioritizing transit was well warranted.
The rationale behind the project was covered in-depth by UrbanToronto back in January, so that would be a good place to start if you're relatively unfamiliar with the project. This article will focus primarily on the implementation, and what has changed for transit users, pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.
According to the TTC, the success of the Transit Pilot project will be measured based on improvements to reliability, travel time, and ridership. Reliability primarily means on-time performance, which anyone who has taken the King streetcar knows is spotty, at best. Traffic delays can cause significant delays to streetcars, though since the 504 generally runs at such a high frequency, these delays aren't as noticeable to anyone waiting for a streetcar, since it's difficult to know if the streetcar approaching you is the 'correct' one for that time period, or if it is in fact the one that should have passed your stop 10 minutes ago according to its schedule. The TTC will be measuring reliability both in terms of the amount of time spent waiting for a vehicle, and the amount of time spent on it, as compared to scheduled travel times.
Travel time is also expected to decrease. As was detailed in the previous UrbanToronto article, an 11 minute reduction to the current 71 minute one-way trip time (18% reduction) would be an equivalent service boost to adding an extra 3 streetcars per hour per direction to the route. Reducing the total trip time is by far the most effective way of increasing capacity on the route as well, since it involves no additional vehicles. The TTC will be examining trip times before and during the pilot on the 501 Queen, 504 King, 503 Kingston, and 514 Cherry to determine the extent to which the pilot reduced travel times. The 501 Queen has been included in this to determine whether the shift in vehicular traffic patterns negatively impacts Queen Street travel times.
As a function of increased reliability and decreased travel time, it would be logical to expect that there would also be an increase in ridership. Ridership increase could come from people switching to King from other routes (Queen, for example), or could in fact be people who have switched to transit from other modes. The TTC will be conducting ridership counts on both the King and Queen streetcars before and during the Transit Pilot to determine whether there has been any ridership growth, and if there has been, whether it is new riders or a shift in the travel patterns of existing riders.
The City will also be looking at the impacts on vehicular traffic. Turning Movement Counts (TMCs) will be conducted on King Street itself and on parallel routes before and during the Transit Pilot to determine how traffic patterns have shifted. Intersection Delay and Queue Length studies will also be conducted along the King Street corridor. On a larger scale, the City will also be monitoring GPS travel times from services such as Google Traffic, and will be utilizing Bluetooth detectors as well, similar to the ones currently used to estimate real-time travel times on 400-series highways.
The biggest group to benefit from this project are the about 65,000 people per day that use transit along King. Without the impediment of left-turning vehicles, streetcars will see a significant decrease in travel time from Bathurst to Jarvis. Due to the turning restrictions at intersections, most streetcar stops have moved from the near side to the far side of intersections. These new stop locations also feature protected passenger waiting areas in the curb lane, which means fewer passengers waiting on already-crowded sidewalks.
Another group that stands to benefit from this project are cyclists. Unlike vehicular traffic, which is required to turn at most intersections, cyclists will still be allowed to make all movements at intersections, including straight through. Bike boxes will also be installed at King & Peter and King & Simcoe, the latter of which already has dedicated bike lanes. So while there is minimal dedicated cycling infrastructure being implemented on King St (no dedicated lanes or the like), the cycling experience is likely to improve due to an expected reduction in vehicular traffic.
The pedestrian experience on King St is not likely to change significantly as a result of this project. While there will certainly be fewer cars whizzing by, and fewer would-be streetcar riders waiting on the sidewalks, the signal timing at some intersections will be adjusted to allow for advanced right turns for vehicles, leading to minor delays in the pedestrian signals changing. This may take a bit of adjustment for people, but it shouldn't be a significant change.
As some politicians and media outlets have been warning, the road users most negatively impacted by this change will be drivers. At either end of the Transit Pilot area—at Bathurst and Jarvis respectively—vehicles will be required to turn either left or right if they are headed towards downtown.
At most intersections within the Pilot area, vehicles turning onto King Street will be required to turn into the streetcar lane (as the rightmost lane is now the passenger waiting area), and will only be able to travel a block or two before having to make a right turn off of King. When making a right turn off of King, vehicles will now have a dedicated right turn lane in the former curb through lane. These changes give streetcars priority at the start of the block, and an unobstructed lane at the end of it. These changes will no doubt be an inconvenience for drivers. However, for travel through the study area, the Richmond/Adelaide one-way pair are generally significantly faster routes anyway, as is Wellington.
Parking was another significant issue for the driving crowd when it came to this Transit Pilot project. All on-street parking within the study area has been removed, though spaces have been dedicated for passenger pick-up and drop-off, accessible passenger pick-up and drop-off, taxi stands, and loading/deliveries. General parking spaces are still available either on side streets or on off-road lots. With respect to taxis, between the hours of 10 PM and 5 AM taxis are allowed to disregard the turning restrictions and travel through the intersections. Outside of those hours however, they are required to obey the restrictions. Ride-sharing services such as Uber must obey the restrictions at all times.
If you would like to see the map of the entire King Street Pilot with its new line paintings, waiting areas, and turning restrictions, you can download it here.
The Transit Pilot project is scheduled to run no later than December 31, 2018, with City Staff reporting back to the Executive Committee and the TTC Board with their findings towards the end of 2018. A decision will likely be made in 2018 on whether to revert King St back to its pre-pilot state, maintain the configuration as-is, or modify it. If you'd like to join the discussion on the King Street Transit Pilot project, you can do so by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment below.